Three Cups of Crap

By now most of you have heard the allegations of truthiness and mismanagement leveled against author and “philanthropist” Greg Mortenson on 60 Minutes last night. It was quite damning to say the least:

<

p>

I personally have not read the book and barely knew the story. What little I did know until this 60 Minutes exposé has come in the form of word-of-mouth recommendations that start with a gentle hand on my arm at some event and end with breathless “you have to read it.” It always hurts society the most when the seemingly most beneficent emperors are shown to have no clothes.

In this particular case it was probably a helping of liberal guilt mixed with a shot of exoticism that caused so many people to want to believe. But the story is as old as the Bible. Dude comes down from the mountain a changed man and starts to spread the “word.” What is it about mountains that so changes men? If I had read the book I might have been swept away by it to. Who would possibly make up shit like this? This kind of deceit just turns the kindest of hearts cynical. I mean, the part where he claimed that the research director of a respected think tank in Islamabad was part of a Taliban unit that kidnapped him…really? If I was to play armchair psychologist I’d guess that at some point Mortenson felt his lying was for a righteous cause and probably started drinking his own tea. Outside Magazine has the first response by Mortenson. The crux of his defense? “It wasn’t my idea. I am too simple.”

Q: Greg, the 60 Minutes segment claimed that there are major fabrications in Three Cups of Tea. Are there factual errors in the book, and if so, how did they get there?

A: To answer that, it’s important to have some background. I started writing Three Cups of Tea in 2002, doing six chapters myself. I went to New York to four publishers and they all said the same thing: The story’s great but the writing sucks. [Laughs.]

That fall, Kevin Fedarko came over to Pakistan to do a story for Outside about the Siachen Glacier war–we arranged all the logistics to get him to the front lines of the India-Pakistan war zone–and on the way out he came to Korphe with me, where he witnessed a scene in which a woman named Jahan came up, walked into a circle of elders I was sitting with, and said, “I’m ready to go to medical training. You promised me you’d help, so here’s my proposal.”

After that trip, Kevin wrote a Parade magazine article about me in 2003, and the Siachen story and Parade put us on the map. Then Lee Kravitz, who was the editor of Parade, called me and said, I’ve got a book writer for you. This was David Oliver Relin, who co-authored Three Cups of Tea with me and has joint copyright.

That’s where some of the issues are. It’s really complicated, but I’m not a journalist. I don’t take a lot of notes. David and I collaborated. He did nearly all the writing, and along with hundreds of interviews of those involved in the story, I helped him piece together the whole timeline, and from that we started creating the narrative arc and everything. [Link]

So basically there was a lot of interest in this area of the world between 2002 and 2004 (right after the invasion of Afghanistan so we had some guilt that needed working off) and a bunch of writers/editors seem to have created a story using that backdrop and a lot of fiction with a few facts to tie it all together. I actually cited the same Outside Magazine article about the Siachen Glacier war here on SM in 2005 post.

Let’s keep things in perspective though. All is not lost. The cause is important still and will hopefully be picked up by others who do it right and well. Author and adventurer Jon Krakauer said it best last night:

Krakauer: He’s not Bernie Madoff. I mean, let’s be clear. He has done a lot of good. He has helped thousands of school kids in Pakistan and Afghanistan….He has become perhaps the world’s most effective spokesperson for girls’ education in developing countries. And he deserves credit for that…Nevertheless, he is now threatening to bring it all down, to destroy all of it by this fraud and by these lies. [Link]

97 thoughts on “Three Cups of Crap

    • I am glad that both you and Abhi have referred to Jon Krakauer. A mountaineering buddy and an early supporter of Mortenson, his is among the most balanced and convincing testimony.

      Dude comes down from the mountain a changed man and starts to spread the “word.” What is it about mountains that so changes men? Hypoxia?

  1. I was extremely interested in Greg M., and I actuallly got to see him when he visited Harvard in ’07. I also read his “Three Cups of Tea” book. However, there were a lot of consistencies that threw me off. Yes, that’s not a typo. It is his “consistencies” that threw me off.

    In order: 1. His kidnapping by the Waziri seemed too much like a Bollywood/Hollywood film. His “kidnappers” were eating meat straight from a knife, after they roasted it on an open fire like barbarians. This is too much like a caricature of a kidnapping that you would see in Rambo. 2. He mentions a character named “Mirza” who appears from nowhere in the book during a pivotal scene. It doesn’t make sense. I believe that prior to getting kidnapped, all of a sudden, you hear about one of his comrades named “Mirza”, but you don’t know what he’s done, and he is not mentioned anymore.
    3. In that part of Pakistan, 3 cups of tea does not signify anything – except the urge to piss really badly. Nobody will be your brother by simply drinking tea. This is all a Westerner’s fantasy and Tibetan dream of solitude amongst noble barbarians. 4. Without a doubt, the way Greg gets released by Waziri tribesmen: They had a big feast in his honor, and they stuffed his shirt with money. That’s such a cliche/caricature of a Bollywood film, is it not? Moreover, this does not fit the pattern of how Pashtuns release their kidnapped victim. 5. Greg acts a little too folksy like an evangelist on PTL channel.

    I’m so surprised that there was not a song and dance routine with a Loya Jirga with the soft glow of a full moon in the background. Or how he wasn’t riding on camels to a slave auction with some Indiana Jones analog character.

    Shame, shame Greg Mortenson. You had me fooled there.

  2. recommendations that start with a gentle hand on my arm at some event and end with breathless “you have to read it.”


    Oh, Abhi–you’re meeting the wrong kind of girls–if I start with a hand on your arm, it will end with more than breathless conversation

    right after the invasion of Afghanistan so we had some guilt that needed working off


    Whoa, whoa, whoa–”we” have “guilt” over invading Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban? I take back my comment above. I only go for alphas.

  3. It is his “consistencies” that threw me off.

    interesting point, and i see why this sticks out. it’s kind of like bernie madoff’s results or that allegedly fraudulent pollster for dailykos: there wasn’t enough noise in their results for it to seem natural. some noise, but not too much, is the hallmark of a lot of reality.

  4. Yes. I have always been skeptical of “3 cups of tea”–it offers education as a panacea while it is empirically clear that more education often leads to more fanaticism and terrorism. We need to be more subtle and less idealistic in our approach to the region.

  5. “Krakauer: He’s not Bernie Madoff. I mean, let’s be clear. “

    Let’s be clear, they both tried to fraud in their respective spheres. I don’t see the difference. Crime (and punishment) has always been relative to who commits it and who it is committed against.

  6. I remember when I was an undergrad when this book tipped in popularity. Just hearing one of my friends summarize it as some inspiring story true about how some American/European/Australian person who went to Pakistan/Afghanistan/India/Nepal/Bhutan/Sri Lanka to save the lives of young people. No offense, but bah humbug! Not only has that story been played out, the entire underlying premise is what I consider just another form of modern day colonialism. Who needs some Western person traveling to South Asia to find out how deprived the people are there and provide food and shelter and education to them, and then to capitalize on said actions by writing a bestselling novel, the proceeds of which I assumed from the beginning was nowhere close to put towards “saving the brown children”?

    I refused to buy the book. Made up or not, I knew the contents of it was going to be some melodrama about finding people living in conditions that my parents and grandparents were not too far off from.

    However, the deception of the Central Asia Institute takes it to another level. I checked out the 990 forms right after I watched the 60 minutes interview. The man took home $141,000 annually for his position as basically doing nothing useful other than capitalizing on the culture and agrarian lifestyles of those in lesser-income countries. This makes me want to live on an island that requires to take a cultural and moral literacy exam prior to becoming an inhabitant.

    • I agree with you!

      Mortenson is a shady guy, and it’s funny how he’s throwing his writer under the bus now.

      Everything about him screams agent for the US army. His book, which is badly written, is pretty much the same format as Mohammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank-A world Without Poverty, where Yunus in 1977 argues that educating girls is how to bring about social change. Nicholas Kristoff and Mortenson are jumping on the bandwagon and making it seem like they are the ones who came up with the idea of educating girls.

      It’s liberal White guilt with a neocon twist. He helps US army while builing schools. Classic colonial move. After all the British brought India railroads and sanitation. Who cares about the billions they pillaged and millions they enslaved along the way?

      The whole story reeks of White privilege and White Man’s Burden

      • ” He helps US army while builing schools. Classic colonial move. After all the British brought India railroads and sanitation. Who cares about the billions they pillaged and millions they enslaved along the way?”

        That’s three sharks you’ve jumped in one swoop! Impressive!

        You do realize, that in ACTUAL history, the British were actually the ones that outlawed slavery in India?

        And the US Army = Colonial Force trope is tiresome at this point; not even the people who started it,believe that anymore.

        Please try not to flame in what is developing to be a good conversation.

        • I don’t think you understand what “actual” means. Nor “history”…But that’s ok.

          You’re in the wrong thread, btw. There’s a Royal Wedding thread somewhere which you should be drooling over.

  7. Abhi: You know the famous line: “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute”. I am afraid there are many more of these “Greg Mortenson Types” out there pretending to be hepling the poor masses. In Hindi language there is a saying “Duniya Naachhti Hain – Naachanewala Chaahiye”. Nothing new under the Sun lately.

  8. Yo Dad, I love that saying. From my understanding, it’s literally “The world is dancing. Keep dancing with it” and akin to “The world keeps turning.”

    Re: Mortenson, a zillion people have tried to get me to read this book and I’ve been beating myself up over not being able to get past the first few pages (Pakistani-American guilt), so I found it pretty interesting that the writing was found to be suspect. Wish I could credit my good taste in books, but I think it’s just a disinterest in non-fiction. And coupled with the fiscal mismanagement, well, I tend to agree with my_dog_jagat on this one. Hopefully someone can salvage the original efforts and do some major auditing and get the mission back on track.

  9. Phillygrrl: Your understanding is close, but no cigars. It “literally” means: “The world will dance, but a person to make them dance is required”. In the old days (may be even now, in remote villages of India and occasionally in urban sprawl) you will find a “Madaari” who can make a monkey (baboon) dance for the available audience. At the end, the monkey will even go around and collect money for the master ;-) . We have lots of these modern “Madaaris” going around!

  10. Wish I could credit my good taste in books, but I think it’s just a disinterest in non-fiction

    So what’s stopping you from reading “Three Cups of Tea?”

  11. @Yoga Fire Very funny :) I guess badly-written fiction is what I should have written. I’m reading through this PDF and found this bit: “According to one of Mortenson’s friends, when he learned that Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love had bumped Three Cups of Tea from number one down to number two on the New York Times paperback nonfiction list, “Greg was furious. He started buying books like crazy, with the CAI credit card, to try and put Three Cups back on top.”

  12. Who needs some Western person traveling to South Asia to find out how deprived the people are there and provide food and shelter and education to them, and then to capitalize on said actions by writing a bestselling novel, the proceeds of which I assumed from the beginning was nowhere close to put towards “saving the brown children”?

    this seems a common refrain. but the first part is OK right? i’d rather have western NGOs go in to underdeveloped nations than bombs and soldiers for sure. and some of these nations don’t have an indigenous elite willing or able to engage in their own development. we can hope that pakistan stops spending some much of its GDP on on arms, but until the day we see that we’ll have to muddle on. my point is that i was suspicious of mortenson because his story seemed too “feel good” and pat compared to other stuff that western NGOs workers/heads mention about that region of the world. but they’re trying to do good.

    • Razib,

      If it were to choose between armed men in tanks and peace-loving tree-hugging Westerners to invade/help any developing country, of course I’d want the latter. However, I believe it is ideal that the only way to set a developing country on a correct course is to have neither present on its soil. In the case of non-profits, I stand by the idea that for every supposed “positive” action, there will be a negative reaction of equal intensity. I worked overseas in Africa and South Asia for organizations dedicated to women’s health and education personally while also having the chance to survey the local orphanages, microfinance ventures, and other such institutions. One conclusion that I have drawn from these experiences is that though they are established with good intentions, their services might enable people to be even more irresponsible. I remember one particular rural village in Africa that was teem full of orphanages financed by Westerners, and many of its inhabitants were hoping that no more would be built because it basically had given many of the area’s women the green light on abandoning even more of their children. But of course all these Westerner’s are not realizing that; they are going home to Europe, Australia, and the US with smiles plastered all over their faces for all the “good” they’ve done.

      So scandal or not, stories like Mortenson’s are a joke to me. The few successful organizations out there are the ones that rationally recognize and mobilize key immutable cultural factors towards the socioeconomic mobility of its target population, one fine example being Grameen Bank and its use of the tight-knit community infrastructure in Bangladesh as a basis of loan issuance and repayments. And Grameen Bank was spearheaded by a person from the “inside,” not some Westerner that is craving a little culture and adventure.

      • Meera: “successful organizations out there are the ones that rationally recognize and mobilize key immutable cultural factors towards the socioeconomic mobility of its target population, one fine example being Grameen Bank and its use of the tight-knit community infrastructure in Bangladesh as a basis of loan issuance and repayments. And Grameen Bank was spearheaded by a person from the “inside,” not some Westerner that is craving a little culture and adventure.”

        Well said Meera. With the Grameen bank, there was actually a “learning curve” stage when existing lending practices amongst the poor were incorporated.

        I see anecdotal examples all the time of westerners or urbanized/westernized Indians going off for a little country adventure. I’ve made such trips myself (long time ago when it was a lot less common) since I know people in many social service organizations. My mother runs a free school and I’m wary of telling anyone about it lest they approach me for a free vacation. My mom has attracted some of these “volunteers” on her own and doesn’t need my help.

  13. I have not read the book in its entirety. But one part that sticks out for me is the several pages he writes about the Kargil war in 1999. Mortensen says he was living and working in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir when war broke out that summer. He wrote about a conversation he had with a number of fighters from the Pakistani side, who had returned from the front lines. He asked them how the fighting was going, and they said while they were holding their ground against the Indian forces, they were suffering heavy casualties, especially once the Indian army started using the Bofors artillery. “Sweden may be a peaceful country, but they make a deadly gun.” That line stuck out to me, now I wonder if it was even said, or if the conversation even took place.

    Considering that the Pakistani and Afghan government are corrupt and inefficient, it often fell to NGOs to deliver on some basics such as education. Living in the U.S., it is difficult to do “due-diligence” on a charity halfway around the world, so when a seemingly reputable organization such as Mortensen’s turns out to be not that reputable, it makes the task much more difficult.

  14. and there’s this gem from the same interview. apropos of non-functioning and non-existing schools:

    What happened three years ago? In Africa and Asia, there’s something called a confidence trick. Have you heard the term?

    Nice!

  15. The schadenfreude on display in the Mortenson case disturbs me–it really reveals the nasty side of human nature. The false account in the book is wrong, but the other charges seem like piling on. US$141K in not an excessive salary for someone running a charity taking that much money. Aid-workers have not taken vows of poverty.

    • it seems that mortenson is a bit of a trickster himself (and is completely blind to the irony in the above comment). also, it’s important to look at his operation in context — that is, alongside the US military bombardment and invasion. there’s a reason the book is required reading for military personnel going to afghanistan — it fits the occupation narrative. now, that’s not to say that education and schools aren’t a good thing — but they need to be part of a larger, global commitment to develop social infrastructure in the area. you can’t bomb and destroy and then have a non-profit build schools and say we’re winning “hears and minds.”

      • Yeah, the latest story is that Petreaus wants and US is pushing for a permanent military base in Afghanistan…to save the country from itself.

  16. there’s a lot of money in these non-profits. i might form an organization dedicating to exposing these guys.

  17. @DesiInScotland, I don’t believe it’s the amount that’s at issue, I think it’s the lack of transparency. From page 29 of the Jon Krakaue book, “All told, at the time Mortenson claimed he was being paid $28,000, his annual compensation actually exceeded $75,000. One could make a strong case that Mortenson deserved every penny of it, given how hard he worked and what a crucial role he played in all aspects of CAI’s operation. What’s disturbing is not the amount Mortenson was paid, but that he lied about it—and that dozens of such falsehoods are strewn throughout the book.”

  18. Mortenson should focus more on home. Public schools in Montana are the shits and they produce functional literates with little ability to do basic critical thinking skills.

    More good could be had from keeping Montana kids from joining the army and murdering Afghan civilians than building a few shitty schools in Afghanistan.

  19. ” He helps US army while builing schools. Classic colonial move. After all the British brought India railroads and sanitation. Who cares about the billions they pillaged and millions they enslaved along the way?”

    That’s three sharks you’ve jumped in one swoop! Impressive!

    You do realize, that in ACTUAL history, the British were actually the ones that outlawed slavery in India?

    And the US Army = Colonial Force trope is tiresome at this point; not even the people who started it,believe that anymore.

    Please try not to flame in what is developing to be a good conversation.

  20. Thanks, Phllygrrl–I’m just getting started reading the Krakauer piece.

    Calling Mortenson a “colonialist” is really loser. It bespeaks a self-hating lack of confidence and the view that somehow one white guy is going to harm 1000′s of browns.

    And the anti-military stuff is silly too. If the US/UK military weren’t there–well, we’ll see what happens when they pull out. In the meantime, I say to my Gurkha brothers serving in the UK military–”Get some!”

    • DesiInScotland – Well put In an article talking about how the US needs to establish joint Pakistani-Afghan bases in NWFP and other places, Petraeus said this: “The Pakistanis are the first to note that more needs to be done,” General Petraeus said. “There is, I think, a growing recognition that you cannot allow poisonous snakes to have a nest in your backyard even if they just bite the neighbor’s kids, because sooner or later they’re going to turn around and cause problems in your backyard.”

      Unlike all the useless talking heads, Gen. Petraeus has a very good understanding of the region and as quite a few of my friends who served over there or Iraq have communicated, the situation there is much different than anyone outside can understand. While Mortensen is an opportunist swindler with a religious agenda, extending his motives to everyone else is a classical fallacy.

      However, I am not shocked that people pick up and run with the idea that this is some sort of oppressive occupation, these are the same people who’ve not visited places in Himachal and Kashmir, where I wouldn’t even dare venture unless there were men with Khukris around me!

      And have you ever heard one of these :Dhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymweEOOPJGE#t=8m26s

    • It’s a fascinating piece. I couldn’t stop myself from reading the entire thing. I’m taking Corporate Law this semester (focused on for-profits) and there were a lot of parallels between this story and the other corporate waste cases we read.

  21. Rahul, Haha–yeah, he’s sort of a George Carlin over here.

    Phillygrrl, you mean “corporate waste” is sometimes not OK in the USA? I thought it was de rigeur (not entirely joking–I recall reading some Delaware cases that were awfully lenient in applying the “business judgment rule”).

  22. phillygirl what PDFs are you reading? do you mean the emails M sent to 60 minutes..the one where they ask about non existent schools on his IRS forms.

  23. OK, I’ve read the Krakauer piece (in Byliner). (Assuming it’s true, which it appears to be) I take back my schadenfreude comment above. I finally gave up any sympathy for him when he made up the story about meeting the Afghan king. How juvenile. And that was only about halfway through the piece.

  24. One criticism of the Krakauer article–in discussing Baltistan, it refers to the nearby disputed Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. This is a biased perspective, as it omits that Baltistan itself is disputed territory. Baltistan is part of the original Kashmir that acceded to India, so it is just as disputed as any Indian-controlled portions of (now-divided) Kashmir.

  25. I couldn’t make it through the book, not because I had any idea of the current state of things, just because it was so self-congratulatory and back-patting that I couldn’t turn another page. I do hope that even if the allegations are true, it brings to light the issue of school-less children in Pakistan and someone, somewhere finds ways to help address the need. Maybe this coup will help the world realize that Mortenson’s stones were never going to be enough anyway.

  26. I remember when I was an undergrad when this book tipped in popularity. Just hearing one of my friends summarize it as some inspiring story true about how some American/European/Australian person who went to Pakistan/Afghanistan/India/Nepal/Bhutan/Sri Lanka to save the lives of young people. No offense, but bah humbug! Not only has that story been played out, the entire underlying premise is what I consider just another form of modern day colonialism.

    As someone who will be going to Pakistan this summer as with Doctors Across Borders (I’m not a doctor, I’m a undergrad intern), this comment frankly pisses me off. Just because this Mortensen character turned out to be a huge lying douchebag doesn’t mean we should discourage Westerners (or anyone willing to help) to provide help to needy people around the world, whether it is financial, educational, medical, etc. It is not “played out”, it should be more encouraged imo. I would have liked to have seen a stronger response to the 2010 Pakistan floods, for example. And I too have family in Afghanistan/Pakistan, so spare me the colonialism crap.

    Who needs some Western person traveling to South Asia to find out how deprived the people are there and provide food and shelter and education to them

    I know right, pshh, who needs anyone to provide food and shelter to them? Surely not millions of children around the world, right? ;)

    I couldn’t make it through the book, not because I had any idea of the current state of things, just because it was so self-congratulatory and back-patting that I couldn’t turn another page. I do hope that even if the allegations are true, it brings to light the issue of school-less children in Pakistan and someone, somewhere finds ways to help address the need. Maybe this coup will help the world realize that Mortenson’s stones were never going to be enough anyway.

    Same, I tried reading the book last year and never finished it! Regardless, I didn’t get far enough into it to suspect it was a lie (don’t remember reading about the kidnapping). Anyway I agree with you, the one good thing may be that it brings light to the issue of children in Pakistan.

    • Alina, I agree 100%. Good for you. Have a productive summer.

      Since nobody seems to have read Mortenson, yet he’s a best-seller, can I advance a hypothesis? He is self-consciously low-brow, like “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” thus ensuring both high sales and that none of us elitist Westernised desis can stand it!

    • Well, your summer will look great on your CV. You will mention it on your CV, right? Make sure to bring up your work during a job interview, too — which will probably be in the first world, very far away from Pakistan. Then pat yourself on your back for the, what, month you will spend “caring for” the poor?

      There are a lot of amazing white, brown, yellow people doing amazing things. The reasons for some of their actions are suspect, like colonialism, white liberal guilt, brown person trying to pad up a CV and appearing “global”, etc. The reasons for some their actions are heartfelt and genuine.

      It’s good to question intentions, even oneself’s.

      The fact that you mentioned why in a conversation about someone self-promoting as Mortenson you would mention that you are headed to Pakistan makes me wonder about yours.

      • Fajita,

        Thanks for your input to this discussion. I actually find myself agreeing with the bulk of what you’ve written.

        Well, your summer will look great on your CV. You will mention it on your CV, right? Make sure to bring up your work during a job interview, too — which will probably be in the first world, very far away from Pakistan. Then pat yourself on your back for the, what, month you will spend “caring for” the poor?

        Going to developing countries or organizing local food drivers, clothes drives, or some kind of zakat/seva AND tagging the photos on Facebook for everyone to see is very much a desi thing, but not exclusive to us. Heck, I’ve seen whites with dreadlocks posing with Ghanians and Nigerians. This is quintessentially a Facebook moment. Finally, I actually knew this one white American guy who was a strident Jesuit. He’s helped set up churches in Guatamal (a form of colonialism/imperialism), but this man had no non-white/non-Catholic friends, and he was actually a pre-judging xenophobe type.

        There are a lot of amazing white, brown, yellow people doing amazing things. The reasons for some of their actions are suspect, like colonialism, white liberal guilt, brown person trying to pad up a CV and appearing “global”, etc. The reasons for some their actions are heartfelt and genuine.

        A person is not global unless they’ve photographed themselves wearing dreadlocks with some black locals or eating street foods in their rolled up cargo pants.

        It’s good to question intentions, even oneself’s.

        I agree. One of my ex-GFs wanted to do developmental work in exotic locations, such as Hong Kong, Africa, and Brazil, but she had ABSOLUTELY no desire/motivation to do any developmental work right here in Boston where she was from. Ironic isn’t it?

        The fact that you mentioned why in a conversation about someone self-promoting as Mortenson you would mention that you are headed to Pakistan makes me wonder about yours.

        To be fair to Ms. Alina, because she has a cultural connection to that region, she would benefit greatly from this experience. Moreover, she would be in a position to help out as well, given her cultural knowledge of the people and landscape. Finally, many Indians do developmental-type of work in India.

        • Boston_Mahesh

          While I do have a little bit of respect for your opinions (As opposed to fajita’s) , your last analysis was an exercise in unscientific observations and sweeping generalizations of the worst type.

          “Going to developing countries or organizing local food drivers, clothes drives, or some kind of zakat/seva AND tagging the photos on Facebook for everyone to see is very much a desi thing, but not exclusive to us. ” As in, it is a global phenomenon that everyone does?

          “Heck, I’ve seen whites with dreadlocks posing with Ghanians and Nigerians” While this is an easy stereotype (Whites with dreadlocks) , it is also a cheap one. My friends, who do have dreadlocks or are into the culture you are implying, also tend to be more altruistic and idealist in their viewpoints; while my “I know people” example is as unscientific as yours, I am presenting it as an example of why your reasoning is increasing fallacious.

          “Finally, I actually knew this one white American guy who was a strident Jesuit. He’s helped set up churches in Guatamal (a form of colonialism/imperialism)” Are you talking about K.A. Paul ? Setting up Churches is Imperialism? There is a wrong way to do foreign aid/outreach, but your criteria doesn’t fall under it. You may object to it from a religious or ethical standpoint but under any other form of reasoning, this is found lacking.

          “This is quintessentially a Facebook moment.” So B,Z (Before Zuckerberg) everyone who was Desi/WhiteDreadlocked did not indulge in any sort of global outreach? Not even as part of their Peace Corps gigs?

          “A person is not global unless they’ve photographed themselves wearing dreadlocks with some black locals or eating street foods in their rolled up cargo pants.” I think David Livingston said that. I do see your objection, as a part of my Indian pride I never fold up my pants no matter how hot the weather is. Also as a token from my noble South Indian-ness, and taking a cue from my family, I rabidly seek out the only udupi restaurant in any city I go to so as to not indulge myself in the food of other cultures with their UNSOPHISTICATED PALATES.

          Just as a favor of indulgence, do you think … that there is a miniscule possibility, that the reason people go to Africa or other South countries to do social work…is because these countries are the ones most lacking in basic amenities? When a bunch of undergrads in my Fraternity wanted to go to Haiti to build houses as part of our Spring Break sponsored trips, we did not screen them for melanin content or colonial intent…but instead we proudly inserted their pictures in all our mailings to our Alumni and Universities. I’ve read your comments for a few years now, but lately your observations have been smacking of pure racial perspectives and I do not know if this is because some white dreadlocked cab driver refused you a ride but…dude…seriously.

          And lastly “One of my ex-GFs wanted to do developmental work in exotic locations, such as Hong Kong, Africa, and Brazil, but she had ABSOLUTELY no desire/motivation to do any developmental work right here in Boston where she was from. Ironic isn’t it?” The only irony there, is that you apparently have a random criteria of what you assign to be acceptable charity and what you don’t believe to be. An individual’s motivation to apply their faculties is completely governmened by their internal moral system, and usually it comes from a good place unlike your (and fajita’s) ascriptions of colonialism or imperialism. Heck, even Garvey’s speeches don’t smack of as much racial myopia as you two seem to exhibit and he was actually a racialist. Sometimes what seems like irony, is only so because of an inherent intelligence and empathy in the observer.

          • Sometimes what seems like irony, is only so because of an inherent LACK OF intelligence and empathy in the observer.

  27. fajita, have you been brought up to hate? because that’s how you are coming across. if not, please think harder before you post.

  28. Well, your summer will look great on your CV. You will mention it on your CV, right? Make sure to bring up your work during a job interview, too — which will probably be in the first world, very far away from Pakistan. Then pat yourself on your back for the, what, month you will spend “caring for” the poor?

    I plan to spend over 1 year there. It will be my first full-time job after I graduate college next month. I will work in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where my family is from; I was assigned there because I speak several dialects (Pashto, Urdu, Dari) native to that region and have a background in Pashtun culture. My intentions at the moment include assisting physicians and surgeons in clinical practice, gaining a deeper understanding of healthcare practices in developing countries, and focusing on community outreach, particularly to young Pashtun women who have high rates of infant mortality and physical/domestic abuse. More personal reasons include wanting to deepen my understanding of my cultural heritage, particularly since Pashtun women in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are often denied necessary healthcare for social, economic, cultural, religious, and legal reasons. One reason I chose to work with this organization in particular is because they have challenged and opposed politicizing and militarizing humanitarian aid in developing nations, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I am sure that over the course of the next year, as I learn more about the realities of international humanitarian aid, my intentions will expand and develop. So I hope that answers your questions in regards to my intentions.

    It’s good to question intentions, even oneself’s.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. In that spirit, why don’t you tell us all your intentions behind trolling this forum? Or is your own CV so littered with humanitarian accomplishments that you feel entitled to sit behind your computer screen and spew hateful comments toward other people’s ambitions? Just curious.

    • Alina, I don’t think you should bother trying to convince fajita (et al) about your intentions… I have gotten the same attacks before, with the same assumptions made. I am not of Indian origin, and I assumed that had something to do with it, but your family is from that area and you are still getting the same western/colonist trying to pad resume/look good commentary.

      I agree with your comments about helping others completely (and be mindful and self-reflective), and I don’t think we should really bother to entertain fajita-types– since I think their goal is attack and to create anger/disruption– not work towards any kind of positive purpose.

      In terms of Greg, it’s pretty pathetic that he has done what he has. This just illustrates that as supporters of specific causes that we all need to look critically at an organization and it’s finances while deciding where to send our money. I think the reason so many people donating to his organization was because of emotional heartstrings and ability to capture the minds of the public with a compelling (but untrue) story. I think our job is to look critically and realize that a lot of organizations that are out there doing the real good are not the ones writing emotional novels, but therefore not getting the overwhelming support and large donations as CAI has.

      I spent time volunteering with one such organization, called Barakat that has been building and supporting schools throughout carpet-weaving areas of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan– started by two friends (one in S. Asia and one from the U.S.) who were in the business of selling carpets and saw the need and child labor happening within their industry and decided to do something about it. I would wager that this organization has done more work in these areas on far less of a budget than CAI (and without the lies and deceit) but their main problem would be lack of the compelling and emotional story that Greg fabricated. In the end though, I hope organizations like Barakat will win out with their long term success and transparency that CAI and others can’t offer.

    • Or is your own CV so littered with humanitarian accomplishments that you feel entitled to sit behind your computer screen and spew hateful comments toward other people’s ambitions? Just curious.

      Alina,

      I truly don’t think that Fajita made any hateful comments. Also, you have mentioned: ” It is a shame so many Indians have this repulsive self-hating attitude and don’t seem to believe their own people should be helped, even in the wake of natural disasters.”

      Are you equating “Indians” with “South Asians”? If you really believe that Indians are self-loathing, then your comment was, indeed, hateful. There are many among us who hate others, but not ourselves!

      • It is a shame so many South Asians have this repulsive self-hating attitude and don’t seem to believe their own people should be helped, even in the wake of natural disasters.

        Fixed.

  29. DesiInScotland: “Calling Mortenson a “colonialist” is really loser. It bespeaks a self-hating lack of confidence and the view that somehow one white guy is going to harm 1000′s of browns. “

    Maybe but it is not so much how you see yourself as how others perceive you. The colonial instinct is quite strong here in Europe (the place most Americans emigrated from) and my guess is that Mortenson tapped into these sensibilities.

    My own rough impression (I haven’t dug into the details of this story) when I first heard about this story was that the Heart of Darkness had moved from the Congo basin to Montana; that Kurtz was now a king of a low-brow media empire, thus providing a new model for would-be Kurtzs.

  30. Thanks Lindsey; I’m sorry to hear you have also had rude comments made about you. It is a shame so many Indians have this repulsive self-hating attitude and don’t seem to believe their own people should be helped, even in the wake of natural disasters. Fortunately these people are uncommon in real life; their haven is the internet where they can be hateful under a veil of anonymity. I think people that offer international humanitarian aid have all sorts of intentions, but in the end the good thing is that people are being helped. Even Greg Mortensen, who turned out to be a lying scumbag, still helped people through his organization, even if the events in his book were fabricated. I think that Americans in particular love “feel-good underdog” types of stories because of our culture, and so maybe we’re more prone to buying into these compelling types of stories.

    “According to one of Mortenson’s friends, when he learned that Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love had bumped Three Cups of Tea from number one down to number two on the New York Times paperback nonfiction list, “Greg was furious.He started buying books like crazy, with the CAI credit card, to try and put Three Cups back on top.”

    Hahah if that’s true, it’s both hilarious and pathetic. I think Bill O’Reilly does this too (he lives in my hometown, and my sister, who works at the local Barnes & Noble, says he often buys his own books….maybe as presents, but if not, it’s pretty sad.

    @Razib and DesiinScotland – thanks guys

  31. @Boston – good catch, I should’ve said South Asians, not Indians (I honestly use the 2 interchangeably in real life, but typically not on this blog, for PC reasons). I’m not trying to target indians more so than any other group! But I will stick by what I said about many of us being a self-hating bunch – for example, I have been actively discouraged by several Desi’s in real life from doing volunteer work in Pakistan. One family friend (himself from Karachi) openly told me to go because it was a waste to even help people like that because they’re just peasants. The attitudes some Desi’s have toward less fortunate people in our homeland is frankly disgusting, I’ll spare you from some of the harsher things I’ve heard people say in real life. I agree with your comment about how local charity work is sort of under-appreciated compared to global outreach. But regardless of our personal intentions, end of the day the good thing is people are being helped. The homeless guy on the corner doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether you gave him money out of genuine caring or to show off , he’s glad he can grab a sandwich. Similarly, after I join DWB I imagine my colleagues will have all kinds of motivations behind their actions, but end of the day, thousands of people will benefit whether the motivations are altruistic or selfish is nature.

    As for fajita, I apologize for calling out an individual so openly, but that last comment was openly rude and condescending, can’t imagine talking to someone like that in real life, and I’ve seen that particular poster make repeated derogatory comments on different threads.

  32. “Heck, I’ve seen whites with dreadlocks posing with Ghanians and Nigerians”

    Yeah, and I’ve seen Blacks with straightened hair and Western clothing posing with White Americans – crazy ain’t it? ;) Because that’s literally the equivalent of what you were trying to point out as odd.

    • Alina

      There is a wonderful chapter in Tropical Gangsters where the author talks about the local UN Envoy from Nigeria making all his staff dress up in the traditional garb of their tribe. The envoy does this to show school children in Equitorial Guinea that even though people may look different and dress different, their values of love and service are the same across the world. : http://www.amazon.com/Tropical-Gangsters-Experience-Development-Decadence/dp/0465087604

      This is way off topic at this juncture so I don’t want to drop any references to Easterly and other writers , who did know what they were talking about unlike …

    • “Heck, I’ve seen whites with dreadlocks posing with Ghanians and Nigerians” Yeah, and I’ve seen Blacks with straightened hair and Western clothing posing with White Americans – crazy ain’t it? ;) Because that’s literally the equivalent of what you were trying to point out as odd.

      You’re conflating two different things. The developed country white person is going to a developing nation, and establishes a patriarchal relationship with the locals. They’re only assimilating at a superficial level, and in a way that is turned off/on at will. The whites are in a position of power. However, they don’t copy any aspects of the developing world’s culture: No language, no religion, no clothes, no names, etc. The only aspect that they bring are the photo-tagged memories in their “Summer 2011 in Botswana Babay!” folder in Facebook.

      The black American with straightened hair is not in a patriarchal relationship with the whites, but is trying to assimilate. Once again, the whites are in a position of power. The blacks who are trying hard to assimilate, like the Indians who may try hard to assimilate, will adopt the white man’s religion, names, and culture. For examples: “Bobby” and “Nicky” have converted from Hinduism and Sikhism, respectively, and now they are country club Republicans. Another example are the “Raymond Li” and “Angela Lao” who’s parents converted from Confucianism/Communism to Free Market Baptists.

      Finally, when the Whites came to South Asia, they “helped us out really well.” They totally “domesticated” us, since we were heathens and quite barbaric to begin with. This is the type of patriarchal attitude whites have when they go to a developing nation, by the way.

      BTW, speaking of “Doctors without Borders”, I saw their documentary, which was sort of cheesy. Even the Africans were mentally guarded and vigilant as to the arrogant ways of the Westerners. One of them says: “If you give us your European attitude, then we’ll give to you our African attitude.” That was basically a documentary of photogenic Europeans/Australians who look chique smoking cigarettes (with dreadlocks, of course.).

    • Yoga Fire,

      That’s exactly what I was referring to. Many of us are MUCH better off mailing in the check to a legitimate organization than spending $1,600 on a plane ticket to India to do < $500 worth of work. Keep in mind, that the average GDP/person in India is $1,200, so let's assume that the Indian social workers make $1,200/year, or $100/month.

      It makes absolutely no sense, from altruistic purposes, to spend $1,600 on a plane ticket to India to do 3 summer months work that a social worker can do. The economic value of your work is probably worth only $300 for those 3 months, anyways.

      Never forget, that there is a lot of poverty, even in an affluent town like Boston or Muttontown or Bay Area. It’s totally not as glamorous, not as sexy, and not as Facebook-photo-opp worthy to work as a “Big Brother/Big Sister” in these towns with the not-so-jetset.

      Also, I mentioned that: “I actually knew this one white American guy who was a strident Jesuit. He’s helped set up churches in Guatamal (a form of colonialism/imperialism), but this man had no non-white/non-Catholic friends, and he was actually a pre-judging xenophobe type.” This guy has actually stayed in Calcutta for two weeks during the early ’90s, since he had absolutely nothing better to do after college while living with his mother. He volunteered at a Catholic place there, and he proudly has a picture of Mother Theresa (with himself posing in the background). The irony is that this guy doesn’t have ANY Desi, Hispanic, or Black friends. All of his friends are white Catholics. Moreover, he feels uncomfortable around these types of people. Let’s face it, this was a volunteering vacaton, like your Youtube clip mentioned.

    • Your hyperlink is not working. Just copy/past the hyperlink without using the embedded HTML links.

  33. Awful. I paid money to see this guy talk. I want my money back now.

    More like three cups of pee.

  34. @Yoga – your last hyperlink isn’t working but I think I saw that on youtube lol

    Many of us are MUCH better off mailing in the check to a legitimate organization than spending $1,600 on a plane ticket to India to do

    Yeah, and how do you think those legitimate organizations like Red Cross, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, etc, function? By mailing a bunch of checks to poor people somewhere and hoping it all works out? No, they need trained volunteers who actually help, not just yuppies writing out checks at a gala. You are focusing a lot on the financial side of volunteering and not the other reasons behind it. For example, healthcare workers who go abroad with Red Cross/DWB obviously get paid a hell of a lot more here than they do volunteering, but fortunately they do so anyway. I’m assuming you volunteer in Boston, that time could similarly be spent working or a more enjoyable activity, right?

    And honestly your comments about glamour and Facebook are kinda funny, because often these people are working in remote villages in shitty conditions, often access to internet is hard or impossible…idk where you’re getting this stuff from.

    I have noticed that Desi’s in general aren’t big on volunteer work. For example, I went to a DWB event 3 weeks ago in NYC, and literally do not recall seeing a single Desi doctor there (out of well over 100 people) despite the hordes of Desi doctors in the tri-state area. Similarly, my university is 12% South Asian, but seeing a Desi kid at a fundraiser, charity, blood drive, or similar event is a rare phenomenon. I’m hoping it’s because Desi’s are more likely to volunteer with Islamic or Hindu organizations rather than we’re just raised to chase money and not give a shit about anything else.

  35. @boston – The impression I’m getting from your is you have never actually been involved in these organizations yourself, you just saw some douchey guy on Facebook and decided, hey, why not base my entire thoughts about the international humanitarian community based on that? As someone who doesn’t have a Facebook your comments in that regard frankly seem pretty childish to me.

    Yes I agree with your comments about Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley and assimilation, but how is that even relevant here, they’re politicians and not humanitarians or aid workers. I’m not sure if I understand the point you’re trying to make at all. Your attitude seems to be along the lines of “Some White guys are arrogant douches, they get dreadlocks and have Facebooks, therefore volunteering is a waste of time!” (I’m clearly exaggerating here, but still, I really don’t understand your point and why anyone would discourage people who choose to volunteer is beyond me).

  36. You speak well, Boston. But what do you want white people to do? They have undergone a liberal education, and have this liberal guilt that they have prospered at other people’s expense. They are Christians, so we cannot teach them the Hindu idea that they have prospered because they generated good karma in their previous life. In some ways, they also need help.

  37. Let’s face it, this was a volunteering vacaton, like your Youtube clip mentioned.

    What is wrong with a volunteer vacation? I have to admit I’ve never volunteered on vacation before, you’ll usually find me lying on a beach under the sun, but if someone is vacationing and wants to volunteer there, I say good for them. I find it funny that you’re angered by the idea of people volunteering on vacation and god fobid, taking pictures and even gasp putting ‘em on facebook – how dare they? ;)

    @yoga – thanks

    I feel weird repeatedly commenting anonymously instead of using my Gmail, but a few months ago I started getting weird email messages (which I blocked, but different people kept sending them) so I guess I’m gonna be another faceless anonymous from now on.

  38. I feel weird repeatedly commenting anonymously instead of using my Gmail, but a few months ago I started getting weird email messages (which I blocked, but different people kept sending them) so I guess I’m gonna be another faceless anonymous from now on.

    that’s y u should use twitter :-)

  39. What is wrong with a volunteer vacation?

    Some are good, but some can be bad over the long run. It is one thing to be on vacation while you volunteer, but they actually have companies specifically designed to schedule “volunteer vacations.” The problem is that these tend to be really bad with follow-through and create a culture of dependency among the people they’re supposed to help. I’ll offer some examples.

    Suppose you volunteered for an organization that builds a school in a poor village. This is the kind of thing volunteer vacation groups like to do because it’s relaxing work and you get to work with your hands and get good pictures of yourself working hard. The thing is that the people you’re helping are already pretty good at manual labor. In fact, it’s one of the few marketable skills they have. So when you went and built a house for dirt cheap, what you ended up doing was not paying a local laborer to get some work done. It actually would have done much more good for the community if you had just handed them some money and hired local labor. That way they get the school and you stimulate economic activity in the community by injecting more money. What’s more, the 4 walls and a roof are the least consequential part of a school. What makes a school is qualified teachers so if you just build a school and pay no attention to its continued maintenance and staffing it’s just going to fall into disrepair. The community needs to be invested in the resources being put into it. You can’t just drop them from the sky or they’re not going to care.

    Another popular one is teaching English in a school. Only now, you’re taking up jobs that could have been filled by local teachers, ones who are more attuned to local customs and norms and also more likely to develop relationships (minds out of the gutters kids) with their students. It can be beneficial to have some native speakers around, but kids really do need teachers who are engaged with their lives.

    There are serious flaws in how international aid is handled too. Food aid in countries that floods the market with free food, for example, screws over local farmers who now have to sell their produce at prices to compete with “free.” Education aid whose effectiveness is measured by how many years of educational enrollement just encourages countries to build schools, “enroll” students, and then not bother teaching them anything. Hospitals that get built and then don’t sanitize their instruments or use second rate equipment sometimes ends up killing people. There was a World Bank project in India where they installed some baby warmers in a hospital, but they cut corners and omitted the grounding on the warmers (because copper is expensive.) No doctor used them because putting a baby in an electrical contraption that’s not grounded is a death trap!

    Long story short. Well intentioned people want to help and that’s a noble impulse, but it’s also one that can be easily exploited. There is a lot of money and time being spent of things that really don’t help because what actually helps foster economic development in a poor country can sometimes be counterintuitive. When you let non-development professionals carry so much weight in the decisions your work might end up doing more harm than good.

    • Earlier I said “This is way off topic at this juncture so I don’t want to drop any references to Easterly and other writers ” But your inspired cultural take on the parable of the broken window necessitates this – http://www.amazon.com/White-Mans-Burden-Efforts-Little/dp/1594200378 .

      BTW what you are advocating for is a semi-autarkic state with a highly protectionist system . Last I checked the ideal of that is North Korea. How’s that working out?

    • Some are good, but some can be bad over the long run. It is one thing to be on vacation while you volunteer, but they actually have companies specifically designed to schedule “volunteer vacations.” The problem is that these tend to be really bad with follow-through and create a culture of dependency among the people they’re supposed to help. I’ll offer some examples. Suppose you volunteered for an organization that builds a school in a poor village. This is the kind of thing volunteer vacation groups like to do because it’s relaxing work and you get to work with your hands and get good pictures of yourself working hard. The thing is that the people you’re helping are already pretty good at manual labor. In fact, it’s one of the few marketable skills they have. So when you went and built a house for dirt cheap, what you ended up doing was not paying a local laborer to get some work done. It actually would have done much more good for the community if you had just handed them some money and hired local labor. That way they get the school and you stimulate economic activity in the community by injecting more money. What’s more, the 4 walls and a roof are the least consequential part of a school. What makes a school is qualified teachers so if you just build a school and pay no attention to its continued maintenance and staffing it’s just going to fall into disrepair. The community needs to be invested in the resources being put into it. You can’t just drop them from the sky or they’re not going to care.

      These are excellent points. Developmental work creates intergenerational welfare dependencies. One of my friends who was big on working with the UN as well as other aid agencies told me that she became disillusioned with a lot of what she saw. The locals came to expect goods/services, and their resource planning factored in the goods/services that they’d receive from wide-eyed foreigners.

      Also, does it even make sense to ship second-hand clothes (made in Guatamala/El Salvador) and canned foods and “Hamburger Helper”-type of foods from the USA to countries like Angola/Chile?
      Another popular one is teaching English in a school. Only now, you’re taking up jobs that could have been filled by local teachers, ones who are more attuned to local customs and norms and also more likely to develop relationships (minds out of the gutters kids) with their students. It can be beneficial to have some native speakers around, but kids really do need teachers who are engaged with their lives.

      Personally, Yoga Fire, I’m all for developing relationships with teachers while I was a student. Having native English speakers with (relative to an American) neutralized accents teaching English is great.

      There are serious flaws in how international aid is handled too. Food aid in countries that floods the market with free food, for example, screws over local farmers who now have to sell their produce at prices to compete with “free.” Education aid whose effectiveness is measured by how many years of educational enrollement just encourages countries to build schools, “enroll” students, and then not bother teaching them anything. Hospitals that get built and then don’t sanitize their instruments or use second rate equipment sometimes ends up killing people. There was a World Bank project in India where they installed some baby warmers in a hospital, but they cut corners and omitted the grounding on the warmers (because copper is expensive.) No doctor used them because putting a baby in an electrical contraption that’s not grounded is a death trap!

      Great point again. Never forget, the greatest aid work or development work that could ever be done is done at the macro-economic/governmental/local level, and not by the help of wide-eyed blanket donors (with access to iPhone uploads to Facebook). Case in point: India is a developing nation with ~9% GDP growth rate, caused largely by macro-economic liberalization policies, and not be Sai Baba’s manifestation of ashes, not by the pre-med desi kids spending a week or two at a remote village, or by Child-Help for kids with cleft palates. Now, the Child-Help is a noble cause for sure, and the participants are very well-intentioned and pure hearted (and maybe some of the pre-meds are as well).

      Long story short. Well intentioned people want to help and that’s a noble impulse, but it’s also one that can be easily exploited. There is a lot of money and time being spent of things that really don’t help because what actually helps foster economic development in a poor country can sometimes be counterintuitive. When you let non-development professionals carry so much weight in the decisions your work might end up doing more harm than good.

      People should also focus on the development work opportunities which exist around them right now.

  40. “so we cannot teach them the Hindu idea that they have prospered because they generated good karma in their previous life”

    Sigh .

    boston_mahesh and his fan club seems to deal with semi-factual inaccuracies, that they don’t really reply to when challenged.

    Karmic rebirth is another vestige of the bizarro-reactionary “reforms” undertaken after the Buddhist exodus, this is my pet annoyance along with the concepts of “Karma” and the adoration of “Gurus” . The Vedas, like all other religious systems of the world, provide simple guidelines on how to live life on this earth (i.e., respect your fellow creations, don’t conduct aggression, control your sensual indulgences, don’t eat the yellow snow…etc.). However, unlike most other religious sytems, there is no concept of “suffering in Hell” or “being subject to the wrath of God”.

    This was, in my view, the trump card of the Hindu-Nicene-Creed circa Buddhist era. They created the concept, much prized and very lacking in ancient Vedic Hinduism – Fear. For we all know, what’s a good religion without a simplistic moody bearded guy who could stomp you out like a bug. So instead of the Vedic prescription of living a life which results in a soul pure enough to merge with God or ELSE, you get another chance at it till you get it right; THEY created the penalty box/time-out feature. So everytime you gone done mess up, you get to become a lower form of life until you iterate upwards…I guess, by cleaning all the parasites out of dung and making it into clean-smelling bio-fuel.